Regime threatened by popularity of S. Korean media among security personnel

Kim Chae Hwan  |  2017-11-21 17:20
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In the midst of stronger sanctions levied against the country for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the inflow of outside information continues to influence North Korean society. 

"Hallyu"-- South Korean movies, dramas, and music - remains at the top of the countrys wish list for illegal foreign media. 

The residents enterprising spirit and demand for new entertainment material has led to a rapid spread of the Korean Wave, especially amongst younger people. In a country with numerous governance issues, these movies and TV shows provide a sense of hope and wonder, inspiring them to dream about a better future.   

South Korean media helps to passively highlight the contradictions of Kim Jong Un's hereditary rule, and how human rights violations render the government illegitimate. The regime has therefore focused on cracking down on the distribution and possession of such materials which pose a significant threat to its authority.

Pyongyang residents unmoved by appeal for adherence to traditional values

Residents all over the country are generally undeterred by the government's threats towards those watching South Korean media. It may come as a surprise to many that the Korean Wave is popular even in Pyongyang - a city once known for its high proportion of citizens loyal to the Kim regime. 

A source in Pyongyang informed Daily NK that young people in the capital have taken to favoring K-Pop style dancing over traditional North Korean dancing. People on the streets can also be seen imitating South Korean accents, popular fashion, and even the swagger of famous idols. 

For example, instead of referring to friends as "comrade" (dongmu), young Pyongyangites can be heard calling each other "friend" (chingu), just as in the South. And rather than sticking to the highest honorific sentence endings, they now use less formal grammar among friends and acquaintances. In response, the Pyongyang authorities have been running lectures ordering citizens "to never use the language of another country" - referring to South Korea. But most in the general public are responding with indifference to the efforts.

The people's refusal to comply with these orders is yet another sign of waning loyalty to the regime amongst the so-called "jangmadang (market economy) generation."

Ineffective fear tactics

The authorities are working on multiple fronts to try and stem the flow of Korean Wave media. Surveillance personnel are using metal detectors to detect USBs and SD cards, and are then inspecting the contents for illicit material.

Police and state security forces are paying special attention to the markets in Pyongyang to crack down on sales of foreign media. According to a source in China close to North Korean affairs, agents are searching through market stalls for any signs of South Korean packaging, as well as investigating leads to track down merchants reported to sell South Korean or Chinese media. 

However, the punishment for being in possession of Chinese media is not as severe, due to China's historical status as a "brother nation" to the North. In contrast, possessing South Korean media is considered a treasonous act and a threat to the survival of the socialist system. 

The source explained that people caught with South Korean media are often sent to a prison camp as punishment for the crime. The authorities are also trying to educate the public that consumption of foreign media is tantamount to other serious crimes such as drug use and rebellion. 

Through its crackdowns and by publicly ramping up the severity of punishment, the regime is attempting to instill fear among the population. A story has emerged of a recent incident where a young person committed suicide after being caught watching a South Korean drama. The person in question had already spent a number of years in a correctional labor camp for a similar offense, and evidently decided that they would rather die than be sent back to the horrific conditions of the camp. 

"People living in the area are calling the death of the kid a tragic event. The authorities nevertheless continue their crackdown despite criticism from the people," the source added.

North Korean authorities enjoy South Korean media, too

While the regime hopes to ensure the survival of the party and its security organs, the very people charged with hunting down distributors and consumers of "traitorous materials" are known to be fans of the materials themselves. They, too, can receive harsh punishment if caught. On occasion, the regime makes an example out of police or security agents caught consuming foreign media by sentencing them to public execution. This reveals the extent to which the regime perceives outside information as a threat.

According to a separate source in Pyongyang, higher officials prefer to enjoy dramas in the privacy of their homes, hoping to avoid detection. Security agents take advantage of this and are known to target elites and those with ties to China, showing up unannounced at their homes and demanding to "see what South Korean media you've got." They sometimes view and enjoy the media before confiscating it. 

There is a saying in North Korea that security agents "are of two hearts." They have to track down and punish individuals guilty of engaging in an activity that they themselves also enjoy. The popularity of foreign media among elite security agents - the first line of defense protecting the Kim family regime - is a clear sign of weakness in the country's ideological system.

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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